Michigan caregivers protest proposed marijuana limits

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By EMERSON WIGAND
Capital News Service

LANSING — Michigan’s medical marijuana caregivers say proposed legislation supported by licensed growers would hurt their patients.

Recently introduced bipartisan House bills would require testing of cannabis products for unlicensed growers and reduce how many patients they can serve. 

Caregiver advocates from across the state recently rallied at the Capitol against the proposed Michigan Cannabis Safety Act. The bills’ leading advocate is the Michigan Cannabis Manufacturers Association, which represents licensed growers. The association’s executive director, Stephen Linder, said the bills’ focus on the unregulated market is because Michigan residents deserve products that are tested and tracked.

“That’s particularly important for those with cancer and compromised immune systems who rely on cannabis for medicine,” Linder said.

 But Ryan Bringold, a Waterford grower who organized the rally, said the legislation threatens  monopolization by the state’s large, licensed growers. 

“The problem is the big money guys like Skymint, Pleasantrees, Green Peak, Lume, who are on the side of destroying caregivers,” Bringold said. “We created the market but they want to jump on the horse after we put the saddle on.”

These bills would allow unlicensed growers, or caregivers, to grow 12 plants for themselves and 12 for one patient. This would change the 2008 law, which allows 12 plants for each of five possible patients.

Voters approved a medical marijuana program in 2008 which was followed in 2018 by a vote to legalize recreational marijuana.

People don’t have the income to enter the expensive licensing system, said Michael Whitty, who traveled from Birmingham to the rally. He said the bills represent 20th century monopolization and he fears for small growers. 

“We’re seeing the violation of free enterprise by big-canna, they’re trying to corner the whole market,” said Whitty, who is not a grower. 

That’s the biggest issue, said Thetford Township Trustee Eric Gunnels, one of the state’s first caregivers. He fears grower exclusion from the market they created.

“We paved the road for all these other licensed facilities to drive on,” Gunnels said. “We feel we deserve a seat at the table.”

Gunnels also said he worries about the detrimental impact on his own patients, a few of whom have multiple sclerosis.

“If I was forced to drop them they would have to seek someone else,” Gunnels said. “Someone who maybe can’t provide for them the same way I can.”

 Britinie Straub, who came from Grand Rapids to the rally with her caregiver, Kyle Reurink, said she is worried he would have to drop patients. 

“From a medical standpoint, I don’t think it’s fair that Kyle might have to choose between his patients,” Straub said. “All of them have a medical need.” 

This legislation would limit those without caregivers to purchases from dispensaries. Reurink said this hurts elderly or disabled patients who can’t drive to these storefronts.

Protestors rallied on the capital lawn Wednesday against the proposed Michigan Cannabis Safety Act.
Protestors rallied on the capital lawn Wednesday against the proposed Michigan Cannabis Safety Act.

“There’s a lot of areas in Michigan where they don’t allow dispensaries,” Reurink said. 

However, Linder said the bills would allow caregivers to enter the licensed market and serve more than one patient.  A recent poll commissioned by his association and done by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that  82% of Michigan residents support holding caregivers to the testing standards of licensed growers.

The bills would require caregivers, licensed and unlicensed, to lab test their marijuana for safety. Gunnels said that is an attempt by “big-canna” to change the 2008 rules to its advantage. State regulators allowed caregivers to sell their untested products to medical and recreational markets previously, he said.

“We’ve never had problems with people getting sick over caregiver meds, so what’s the problem?” Gunnels asked.

Joshua Keasler, the director of operations at Flint’s Vehicle City Social group, which connects patients and caregivers, agrees. Keasler said these changes represent assaults on the law and the will of Michiganders by corporate interests.

“The 2008 law was built meticulously and it covered all avenues we needed to have addressed,” Keasler said. “There really needs to be no changes whatsoever.”

Cannabis activist Zahra Abbas, who traveled from Dearborn for the recent rally, said that caregivers once were the only supplier for Michigan patients. 

“We wouldn’t be where we are right now without the caregivers,” Abbas said. “So I’ll do anything I can to help protect the caregivers and keep them around.”

Legislators should remember support for the caregiver system given during the 2008 election, Keasler said. 

“I hope they know, they have our future in their hands,” Keasler said. “But we have their future in our hands when we go out to the polls.”